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  1. #1
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    Appalachian Trail Hike vs. Bike Tour

    I have always wanted to hike the AT as a way of getting from south to north USA by human power. AT hiking has the benefit of being free camping along the trail and all the joys of mountain hiking but bike touring would go faster and have the benefit of carrying cargo on the bike instead of the back. Also, it might be easier to stop at stores to restock by bike, whereas hiking the AT it is probably more difficult to hike or find rides into towns where restocking is possible.

    If you have experience with bike-camping south to north USA, what is your experience with camping? Can you free camp along the routes prescribed as designated bike routes (or nearby)? Is it easy to find places to camp or do you need to carefully plan each stop and make sure you make it to that destination before pitching a tent for the night? Is leave-no-trace "stealth" camping well-received or loathed or do you just generally not run into people if you pull off the road along an uninhabited stretch of road and put up a tent 50 feet into the woods?

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    Regardless of the direction, you are going to have to do a ton more planning to bike the spine of the Appalachians, in terms of finding camping locations, as opposed to hiking the AT.

    As well the vast majority of through AT hikers go south to north for a lot of obvious reasons. The camping locations are a given on the AT, with shelters every 6-12 miles or so. Not to say you won't find them crowded at times.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tandempower View Post
    do you just generally not run into people if you pull off the road along an uninhabited stretch of road and put up a tent 50 feet into the woods?
    That's right. But the farther north and east you go, the harder it will be to find a place to wild(free)or stealth camp. Not to say that with ingenuity and some moxie, you can't free camp all the way thru Maine. As you move NE, there will be more and more warmshowers hosts who, with some advanced planning, will put you up overnight.

    You really can't compare the AT to pavement cycle touring, other than meeting interesting people.
    The bicycle is one of the great inventions of mankind. Delights children, challenges young men to feats of daring, and turns old men into boys again.--Me

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    "Bicycles, mountain bikes, and wheeled conveyances are not permitted on the Trail or the Trail corridor."
    That's in the NPS areas.

    Reference:Appalachian Trail Conservancy - Regulations & Permits
    So you can't ride the AT...only come close to paralleling it at best. But, you can fashion any route you want (other than using Interstates and restricted access highways) from Key West, FL to Presque Isle, ME. You have a choice of local out-of-the-way backroads or "established" routes, greenways and "regular" roads. Have map, will travel. Choose.

    Otoh, my five years living in Maine suggest that stealth camping in the NE is very much frowned upon by many (if not most) locals - at least as much as some people's experiences with "Good old boy Southerners" (as mythic as the "g u n totin' legends shootin' up 'outsiders'" may be). As mentioned by others, warmshowers and couchsurfers might be the way to go but, imho, that's less camping than simply "relying on the kindness of strangers". I'm more into self-reliance YMMV.

    Having thru-hiked the AT twice and done a bit of bike-touring/camping, to me there's simply no comparison between the two endeavors. Roads, by their very nature, connect centers of civilization however large or small. The AT avoids 99% of such population aggregations. The AT is a minimum of a multi-month long period of forced isolation while cyclists will seldom go more than 3 days without some contact with others. That is a core difference which has far more effect on one's psyche and likelihood of finishing than one would think. My experiences with the AT involved >95% of it being "alone time" rather than the almost guaranteed 1-3 hours of daily contact with people on most of my "solo" bike trips.

    2 cents worth of nothin'. Make of it what you will.
    Last edited by dual650c; 08-17-14 at 08:56 PM.

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    I've had no problems stealth camping up in VT/NY. Haven't tried it anywhere else in New England as of yet but I wouldn't be a bit worried about it. Choose your locations ahead of time using Google Earth. More often than not you can easily spot nice isolated locations, quite often right in town where you can camp out at. I do it all the time. I'm in western PA right now heading back to NH and plan on spending the night tonight on the local bike path. Granted there isn't much else available. I have been spending the evening talking with a local here in McDonalds that lives just a short throw from where I'm planning on camping tonight.

    Having thru-hiked and having over 4000 miles this year alone of bike tripping I would have to say there is quite a bit of similarity between the two adventures, at least in the planning and execution of the trip. How does the old saying go...'Anything that can go wrong...WILL.' You find in both AT thru-hiking and long distance biking.

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    The first couple of nights I ever had out on a bike trip I camped out at one of the AT trailheads. I would do it again in a heartbeat as well with either of the two sites...Bennington or Clarendon Gorge in VT. All you need to do is find where the trail crossing are located and head there and you have yourself a campsite. Just walk the bike in a ways off the road and set up camp.

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    Great posts, everyone. Thank you for sharing your experience. The secluded hiking/camping of the AT sounds ideal but the relative speed and easier access to shopping makes me want cycling to be an equally free option as far as camping goes. Usually when I bike-camp, I find some conservations areas where primitive camping is specifically allowed. That way, if I run into critics, I can quote the camping policy. It would be stressful to have to excuse myself and move on at an inopportune time, such as in the evening when I'm setting up camp for the night.

    Couch surfing doesn't appeal to me, even with acquaintances, really. I'd rather pitch a tent. I liked the idea of warm showers at first but the more I thought about it, the more I worried about potential abuses that could occur from either the property owner or the guest. I have a pretty worrisome imagination, I'm told. Either way, being able to comfortably camp in unpopulated spots has the strongest appeal to me. Planning to camp where roads intersect the AT is a good idea I hadn't thought would be too convenient until now. Using google maps to find quiet spots seems like it would be misleading. Wouldn't it be better to just ride along and stop in the middle of an area where you haven't seen any buildings for a while?

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    I've done lots of stealth camping in the southeast U.S. It is very easy to pull off almost anywhere other than a metro area. I camp using a hammock which makes it much easier to find good places. You don't need particularly clear or level ground. You have to find suitable trees but I'll be looking for tree cover anyway and trees are very plentiful in this part of the country except for isolated clear-cut areas. I generally stop near woods where there are no posted signs. Wait till there are no cars close by and then roll into the woods at a convenient spot. I'd go more than 50 feet though for peace of mind. I look for where I can go 200 feet or so. If I can see the road at all, I want to just see glimpses thru the trees and brush that separates me from the road.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tandempower View Post
    Wouldn't it be better to just ride along and stop in the middle of an area where you haven't seen any buildings for a while?
    I agree. I don't mess with google earth when looking for a camping spot. BUT I pick my camp BEFORE it gets dark outside as a matter of routine. If you find a campsite in the dark then you're more likely to be right next to something you wouldn't intend.

    Stealth camping IS "frowned upon". Naturally, people don't want you trashing up their property (which I of course will not do). I compensate for that by camping in a sparsely populated area and pick a location where I won't be detected. It's really not hard to do, with all the tree cover.

    Edit: Don't camp where there's farm equipment nearby. There should be nothing but forest for at least hundreds of yards in either direction.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Walter S View Post
    I agree. I don't mess with google earth when looking for a camping spot. BUT I pick my camp BEFORE it gets dark outside as a matter of routine. If you find a campsite in the dark then you're more likely to be right next to something you wouldn't intend.

    Stealth camping IS "frowned upon". Naturally, people don't want you trashing up their property (which I of course will not do). I compensate for that by camping in a sparsely populated area and pick a location where I won't be detected. It's really not hard to do, with all the tree cover.

    Edit: Don't camp where there's farm equipment nearby. There should be nothing but forest for at least hundreds of yards in either direction.
    I use Google Earth all the time for finding campsite for numerous reasons.

    1) I camp out in town. I don't go out of town to camp out. I had three nights back to back in IL where I camped out within a .25 mile of a McDonalds. Two of the three nights were at a church. Most of the time in smaller towns where there was no noise of any kind overnight to deal with. If you watch the size of the towns you camp out around you can limit the noise you hear.

    2) I want to spend the daylight hours riding the bike, not hunting down food. I'll do that in the evening after I get into town. Hence why I camp out in towns all the time. I fess I'm not riding 50-75 miles a day. I'm typically riding 100-200 miles a day so I need to maximize my on bike time and minimize my daylight hours spent searching for food in grocery stores. The more time I waste in grocery stores doing what I could easily do in the evening, the less miles I ride.

    3) Google Earth shows you the secluded spots. Since I'm always changing my route, I never stick with the original route that I planned before I left home, I'm always changing where I plan to spend the night. Last night for example is real good proof. I spent the night in the town I was planning on spending the night in but I thought I was heading for church to spend the night. I got into town and hadn't paid close enough attention when looking at Google Earth to notice the hills were all up on a steep ridge, 15-18% grade ridge. Fortunately I had also used Google Earth and saw another church I poo-pooed on the north side of town in the valley. I went up that and found what ended up being my camp site even though it wasn't the church. Using Google Earth gives you a good idea of what an area has to offer in the way of possible campsite or the lack of campsites thereof. You can plan your route so you don't get into an area and find yourself with no place to camp.

    4) I like camping in/around town to avoid having to stealth in the woods with the bugs and poison ivy/oak/sumac, etc. Rarely do I have to deal with bugs. I pretty much never setup my tent. In fact, in the past 5 nights I haven't set it up once. I've just been sleeping out under the stars or chose a nice park pavillon to camp out in when the forecast was calling for the rain the other night. My tent and all my equipment stayed high and dry thanks to using Google Earth to find the park pavillon.

    The funny thing when talking about seclusion...in 4200 miles on the road in the past two months I haven't seen one bike tourist as of yet. Talk about seclusion. I guess that's the value of picking your own route and not using something like ACA to tell you how you should ride across the country. I will fess I did run into bikeandbuild.??? back in June...the Providence to San Francisco group. Otherwise, no tourist at all this year, going either direction. I can go days on end without seeing another cyclist...other than kids out riding around town.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bikenh View Post
    I use Google Earth all the time for finding campsite for numerous reasons.
    Whatever floats your boat. I think all your points are valid but I also find camping in the country to be more pleasant and usually more secluded and easier to find a place where you won't be disturbed.

    1) I camp out in town. I don't go out of town to camp out. I had three nights back to back in IL where I camped out within a .25 mile of a McDonalds. Two of the three nights were at a church. Most of the time in smaller towns where there was no noise of any kind overnight to deal with. If you watch the size of the towns you camp out around you can limit the noise you hear.
    I would never eat at a McDonalds. I'm a veggie health nut.

    2) I want to spend the daylight hours riding the bike, not hunting down food. I'll do that in the evening after I get into town. Hence why I camp out in towns all the time. I fess I'm not riding 50-75 miles a day. I'm typically riding 100-200 miles a day so I need to maximize my on bike time and minimize my daylight hours spent searching for food in grocery stores. The more time I waste in grocery stores doing what I could easily do in the evening, the less miles I ride.
    You are going further than I am no doubt. 100 miles is on the high side for me.

    I make a point of going thru a town sometime during the day and I pick up food while I'm there. Finding a place to get food is trivial on a smart phone, so this is a quick stop. It is a stop during the day time. But finding my campsite is not hardly any investment of time. I just start looking late in the day. I'm not really spending time doing that, since I'm just following my route. I'm not scanning around for a secluded spot on google earth - I'm just watching the scenery go by.

    3) Google Earth shows you the secluded spots. Since I'm always changing my route, I never stick with the original route that I planned before I left home, I'm always changing where I plan to spend the night. Last night for example is real good proof. I spent the night in the town I was planning on spending the night in but I thought I was heading for church to spend the night. I got into town and hadn't paid close enough attention when looking at Google Earth to notice the hills were all up on a steep ridge, 15-18% grade ridge. Fortunately I had also used Google Earth and saw another church I poo-pooed on the north side of town in the valley. I went up that and found what ended up being my camp site even though it wasn't the church. Using Google Earth gives you a good idea of what an area has to offer in the way of possible campsite or the lack of campsites thereof. You can plan your route so you don't get into an area and find yourself with no place to camp.
    I would use google earth if I were close to anything. Otherwise I'd rather not mess with it. Since I'm out in the country and you're close to a town, the difference between our routines makes sense.

    4) I like camping in/around town to avoid having to stealth in the woods with the bugs and poison ivy/oak/sumac, etc. Rarely do I have to deal with bugs. I pretty much never setup my tent. In fact, in the past 5 nights I haven't set it up once. I've just been sleeping out under the stars or chose a nice park pavillon to camp out in when the forecast was calling for the rain the other night. My tent and all my equipment stayed high and dry thanks to using Google Earth to find the park pavillon.
    Bugs are an issue. But not a difficult one. I carry some bug repellant and often use some shortly after arriving at my site. Then that's good thru the night.

    The funny thing when talking about seclusion...in 4200 miles on the road in the past two months I haven't seen one bike tourist as of yet. Talk about seclusion. I guess that's the value of picking your own route and not using something like ACA to tell you how you should ride across the country. I will fess I did run into bikeandbuild.??? back in June...the Providence to San Francisco group. Otherwise, no tourist at all this year, going either direction. I can go days on end without seeing another cyclist...other than kids out riding around town.
    +1

  12. #12
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    One of my dreams is to hike the AT and then buy a touring bike in Maine and ride back south. Logistically, this is a nightmare to plan, but I still think it can be done.
    As for camping , often, if you ask, small town churches will let you camp behind their building (as long as you are polite about it).

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    Quote Originally Posted by DBA View Post
    One of my dreams is to hike the AT and then buy a touring bike in Maine and ride back south. Logistically, this is a nightmare to plan, but I still think it can be done.
    As for camping , often, if you ask, small town churches will let you camp behind their building (as long as you are polite about it).
    With a little thought work anything can be done. You just have to have the willingness to try.

    I've been spending a lot of nights this trip at small and large churches of any denomination. I typically searches for churches on Google Earth for weekday camping and then use parks, schools, bike paths(last night), etc during the weekends. I tend to think I have a leg up by the church being privately owned property and not publicly owned property. I don't ever ask I just show up 10:30PM or later and set up camp on the back side of the church. I always try to find a place where I can camp out on cement/blacktop(not anything you guys would ever do). I don't want to pack anything away wet so I stay where it's going to be dry. I generally don't have to worry about dew getting on anything since the cement stays far drier than the grass everything I have out stays far drier as well. Saves me time during the day of having to dry things out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Walter S View Post
    Whatever floats your boat. I think all your points are valid but I also find camping in the country to be more pleasant and usually more secluded and easier to find a place where you won't be disturbed.
    I've only been disturbed once and that was a night when I came down with the stomach flu around 10:15PM. I didn't care if I got disturbed or not I was far more interested in safety. The campsite, a baseball field...in September, was more a safety risk than anything else so I chose the spot where I knew I was going to get thrown out simply for the safety factor in case anything happened.

    Quote Originally Posted by Walter S View Post
    I make a point of going thru a town sometime during the day and I pick up food while I'm there. Finding a place to get food is trivial on a smart phone, so this is a quick stop. It is a stop during the day time. But finding my campsite is not hardly any investment of time. I just start looking late in the day. I'm not really spending time doing that, since I'm just following my route. I'm not scanning around for a secluded spot on google earth - I'm just watching the scenery go by.
    I don't ever find No Trespassing signs to deal with. I don't have to worry about property owner since my property owners are generally churches or the tax payers. I may find a Closed Dusk to Dawn sign on occasion, generally only on the weekends, but I don't ever see No Trespassing signs. I don't pass up nice campsites to keep myself from possibly getting busted by a property owner.

    Quote Originally Posted by Walter S View Post
    Bugs are an issue. But not a difficult one. I carry some bug repellant and often use some shortly after arriving at my site. Then that's good thru the night.
    You can have the cancer that goes along with putting all that bug dope on your skin. I don't use any of the bug dope...I don't have to since I stay away from the bugs in the first place.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tandempower View Post
    it might be easier to stop at stores to restock by bike, whereas hiking the AT it is probably more difficult to hike or find rides into towns where restocking is possible.
    YES. The logistics of hiking the trail are difficult. (i.e. PA is pretty easy to resupply, but the hike from the Poconos almost through NJ there is only one town close to the trail.)

    My experience biking in NJ and NY state are varied. Around the populated areas are not pleasant... NJ/NYC drivers are not well known for their concern for motorcycles, let alone bikes. Northern NJ where the trail runs through is not bad at all AND quite beautiful.

    Quote Originally Posted by tandempower View Post
    Can you free camp along the routes prescribed as designated bike routes (or nearby)?
    Bike camping on/near the AT in NJ & eastern NY should be easy. Away from the AT, very improbable. The states are too densely populated. There are very few uninhabited roadways. The only thing growing in NJ anymore are houses.

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    I thru-hiked the AT to Maine, then a couple of years later thru-biked the Northern Tier route to Maine. I spent plenty of time pondering the difference between the two trips.

    Free camping was one big difference. You can tell by the posts above that camping by bike in much of the urban, agricultural and pastoral Northeast can be problematic. It's much easier on the AT. Walking is also much simpler, and you don't have to carry stuff to support the bike. Walking is cleaner, too.

    But if you agree that riding a bike is just plain fun, well then, all the little problems are worth it! And if you like a restaurant meal every day or two, biking is for you. And of course you don't have to carry much more than a picnic lunch and some snacks, and very little water.

    By the way, warmshowers.org was one of the joys of my trip through there. I only used it a handful of times, but I met some great people. It seems fairly well self-policed. You can read comments by and about hosts and guests. They seemed like honest reviews.

    I only found a few good stealth sites from NY to ME, and one of them was very close to an AT trailhead. Another was a town park, with permission. Pay sites were very expensive, about $35 for a tent site. I found a couple of $50+ motels in the same areas, so for the price difference I stayed in more motels in that area than usual.

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    I've hiked many sections of the AT in NC and GA, as well as the entire Long Trail in VT (half of which coincides with the AT). I've ridden week-long bike tours all over the Southeast and Midwest. Like others mentioned, bike touring and backpacking are two very different experiences. At this stage in my life (age 60), I would rather bike tour because I appreciate civilization more than I did as a youth. In my younger days, I craved wilderness and would have preferred to hike the AT over an extended bike tour. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford to do either when I was young and had the time for such an experience. I'm still daydreaming about riding my bike across the country but have no desire to hike the entire AT any more. The Long Trail cured me of that wish because I got tired of hike for days and days in total solitude.

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    One of the logistical issues with hiking on the AT is figuring out how many miles you are going to hike per day, then figuring out which towns to head into for re-supply.

    Re-supply can come in 2 types, mailing supplies to a local post office for hold for pickup and/or shopping the local stores and supermarkets for food, with a mix of both options typical.

    Every thru hiker has to deal with this and in general, the trail is not so remote that it becomes an issue (except the last 100 miles in northern Maine). The trail has frequent road crossings and is not that far to a town, so logistics are not that difficult.

    Cycle touring by its nature is on roads and passes thru towns, so re-supply is easier, but camping is not as there are not lean to'so every 6 miles. It's a crapshoot relying on stealth camping, but doable though using dedicated campgrounds is always a safer choice.

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    Why don't you try riding the Blue Ridge Parkway? My son and four friends did this ride last week and camped every night in national parks. Plenty of towns off the parkway to find supplies. They covered 450 or so miles in six days.
    Current Rides, Look 566 & d' Arienzo-Basso Daily Rides. Cannondale 800 Optimo, utility bike.

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    I think trying to cycle an approximate AT route on bike would be pretty difficult, why not do the Adventure Cycling Atlantic coast route. Atlantic Coast | Adventure Cycling Route Network | Adventure Cycling Association

    The route, camping, food, etc already worked out for you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gregw View Post
    I think trying to cycle an approximate AT route on bike would be pretty difficult, why not do the Adventure Cycling Atlantic coast route. Atlantic Coast | Adventure Cycling Route Network | Adventure Cycling Association

    The route, camping, food, etc already worked out for you.
    I agree that if you are set on the eastern US that would be a great way to go.

    On the other hand a thru hike on the AT and an eastern US bike tour are hardly equivalent. According to the AMC the AT will usually take 5-7 months. A fairly average pace on the AC East Coast route would be something like 45 days. If you are willing to consider an AT thru hike, why not consider a more ambitious bike tour? Coast to coast comes to mind and the typical coast to coast routes are still a lot less ambitious than an AT thru hike. You would spend more time in places where you can camp in plain sight for free most of the time. You would also seem more varied and interesting country and meet a widely varied sampling of folks that populate flyover land. I found it a pretty rewarding experience, and think of the eastern US as pretty underwhelming. Then again I have lived my whole life in the east and that may be part of why I find the idea of touring there a little mundane.

    Starting in Alaska and riding down the west coast would be another option. It would be quicker than an AT thru hike and much more interesting that a east coast ride. Also camping in state parks on the West coast of the US is cheap, available, and pleasant at least in Oregon and California. There are tons of hiker biker sites in the $6-8 range and you get to meet and camp with other cyclists every day.
    Last edited by staehpj1; 08-19-14 at 07:00 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dual650c View Post
    Having thru-hiked the AT twice and done a bit of bike-touring/camping, to me there's simply no comparison between the two endeavors. Roads, by their very nature, connect centers of civilization however large or small. The AT avoids 99% of such population aggregations. The AT is a minimum of a multi-month long period of forced isolation while cyclists will seldom go more than 3 days without some contact with others. That is a core difference which has far more effect on one's psyche and likelihood of finishing than one would think. My experiences with the AT involved >95% of it being "alone time" rather than the almost guaranteed 1-3 hours of daily contact with people on most of my "solo" bike trips.

    2 cents worth of nothin'. Make of it what you will.

    Bingo, wilderness hiking is about getting away from everything. You spend a lot of time with the person in your head. Bicycle touring is about seeing the little towns and cities, and their people.
    The few, the proud, the likely insane, Metro-Atlanta bicycle commuters.

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    So many great posts! Thanks to everyone for chiming in. For those who suggested other tours, thanks but I am really looking for a way to travel north and south along the east coast. I'd like to do it by human power and camp along the way. Some paid camping will probably be necessary but it would be nice to do it on just the cost of food so I could justify taking a year off work without really cutting into savings too much. Part of the attraction to human-powered travel and primitive camping are to get off the grid as much as possible, and by 'grid' I mean the economy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tandempower View Post
    So many great posts! Thanks to everyone for chiming in. For those who suggested other tours, thanks but I am really looking for a way to travel north and south along the east coast. I'd like to do it by human power and camp along the way. Some paid camping will probably be necessary but it would be nice to do it on just the cost of food so I could justify taking a year off work without really cutting into savings too much. Part of the attraction to human-powered travel and primitive camping are to get off the grid as much as possible, and by 'grid' I mean the economy.
    One thought that echoes above posts, is that you cover ground quicker on a bike as opposed to hiking. Thus the time window is greater on a bike.

    Hiking the AT generally takes 6 mos. Thus the majority of thru- hikers start south and hike into spring, then summer, then early fall by the time they make Katahdin. It's harder to time it to start north and hike south (unless you are a speed or supported hiker) as you can't get thru the northern Appalachians till mid to late May (or June in the Whites) thus won't be down south till November. Then you can run into the potential onset of winter in the Smokies.

    Biking's speed makes this easier to deal with, so a N to S trip is easier to accomplish.

    As as to camping ?. The preponderance of forest lands available for camping (legal or not) are going to roughly parallel the AT corridor. Since the AT is a ridge line path most of the time, your bike route that stays near camping opportunities will have you riding a lot of hills. In the east,the majority of roads that will take you in a generally N/S direction are going to be in valleys, the Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway being (very hilly) exceptions. So in general, the flatter the terrain, the fewer opportunities to camp and the closer to population centers you'll be. This is probably more true from about middle Maine to the Skyline drive. Then you can ride that (and the BR Parkway) all the way to the Smokies. Then back to meandering the valleys to Georgia.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DBA View Post
    One of my dreams is to hike the AT and then buy a touring bike in Maine and ride back south. Logistically, this is a nightmare to plan, but I still think it can be done.
    Could always hike the AT N-S, pick up a bike in GA, ride to CA & pick up the start of the PCT.

    Might have to change your username to "Ulysses", though.

    EDIT: Maybe Ride the Divide.......
    '83 Fuji S-12S LTD
    '88 Peugeot Orient Express

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